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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXVI Sweetwater Returns

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"Perhaps this not hearing may act in the way of a preparation for the shock which must come to him sooner or later. Let us hope so, Miss Scott.

Her eyes filled.

"Nothing can prepare him," said she. Then added, with a yearning accent, "I wish I were older or had more experience. I should not feel so helpless. But the gratitude I owe him will give me strength when I need it most. Only I wish the suffering might be mine rather than his."

Unconscious of any self-betrayal, she lifted her eyes, startling Sweetwater by the beauty of her look. "I don't think I'm so sorry for Oswald Brotherson," he murmured to himself as he left her. "He's a more fortunate man than he knows, however deeply he may feel the loss of his first sweetheart.

That evening the disappointed Sweetwater took the train for New York. He had failed to advance the case in hand one whit, yet the countenance he showed Mr. Gryce at their first interview was not a wholly gloomy one.

"Fifty dollars to the bad!" was his first laconic greeting. "All I have learned is comprised in these two statements. The second O. B. is a fine fellow; and not intentionally the cause of our tragedy. He does not even know about it. He's down with the fever at present and they haven't told him. When he's better we may hear something; but I doubt even that.

"Tell me about it."

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Sweetwater complied; and such is the unconsciousness with which we often encounter the pivotal circumstance upon which our future or the future of our most cherished undertaking hangs, he omitted from his story, the sole discovery which was of any real importance in the unravelling of the mystery in which they were so deeply concerned. He said nothing of his walk in the woods or of what he saw there.

"A meagre haul," he remarked at the close.

"But that's as it should be, if you and I are right in our impressions and the clew to this mystery lies here in the character and daring of Orlando Brotherson. That's why I'm not down in the mouth. Which goes to show what a grip my prejudices have on me."

"As prejudiced as a bulldog."

"Exactly. By the way, what news of the gentleman I've just mentioned? Is he as serene in my absence as when under my eye?"

"More so; he looks like a man on the verge of triumph. But I fear the triumph he anticipates has nothing to do with our affairs. All his time and thought is taken up with his invention."

"You discourage me, sir. And now to see Mr. Challoner. Small comfort can I carry him."

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